Bringing Systems Engineering Expertise to the Courts

May 2015
Charles Horowitz
Charles Horowitz

Charles Horowitz is a prime example of how MITRE employees can take what they've learned for a government sponsor and apply it to the challenges of another. In Horowitz's case, that means ensuring that his current sponsor—the U.S. Courts—has sustainable, high-impact, integrated technologies that enable the courts to achieve their mission and provide equal justice under the law.

His work supports the Judiciary Engineering and Modernization Center (JEMC), the federally funded research and development center that MITRE operates for the federal judiciary. It is the only FFRDC working on behalf of the U.S. Courts.

"I think it's essential that people understand how MITRE's strengths apply to this important but atypical government organization," he says.

A Mission with Impact on Citizens' Rights

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts sponsored JEMC’s creation in 2010. MITRE's role was clear: objectively assess the technical challenges the judiciary faces and provide solutions that consider the impact and risks of both available and emerging systems.

"The information technology work MITRE does for JEMC is not unusual in itself—we've done similar work elsewhere—but it's much harder to find the right approach to building support for change in the courts," Horowitz, a chief engineer, says. "The courts are very different from our other government sponsors. Their work directly affects people’s life and liberty, and they face less external pressure to change than other parts of government."

However, that is just one part of what makes MITRE’s work for the courts appropriate for an FFRDC to take on. "The courts aren't very large [compared to other government organizations], and their work is very specialized. In addition, they're largely independent of one another."

As the operator of seven FFRDCs, MITRE can bring together diverse sets of technical skills and expertise as needed to address the challenges of our sponsors.

"The federal judiciary doesn't have large acquisition and development programs. Instead, we bring our experience with other parts of government to support the judiciary in seeing and applying the potential of advanced technologies."

He adds, "And while improving the courts’ IT infrastructure is part of our support, MITRE is also focused on helping the judges and their staff through systems thinking and technology application to best fulfill their mission. That's not always conventional IT."

For example, much of Horowitz's recent work has been establishing the technical infrastructure needed in computational law—an emerging field of law based on automated legal reasoning. He is collaborating on the technical issues with law professors at CodeX, Stanford University's Center for Legal Informatics.

Finding the Optimal Solution

Horowitz first came to MITRE in 2007 as an information security specialist. "I initially supported both Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice sponsors in information security, particularly public key infrastructures," he says. "These led to another DOJ project in implementing a next-generation electronic case records and management system, as well as change management engineering."

It was Horowitz's information security expertise and project work in integrating new technologies for managing electronic records that led him to MITRE's early work with the federal judiciary in 2010.

"I think what I like best about MITRE is the degree of flexibility you have within the work. Some people call it 'work shaping,' but our ability to redefine the work we do is essential, especially because we are typically dealing with uncertainty and the changing priorities of our sponsors. Having the flexibility to do the things we think are important or right is crucial."

He has found that our judiciary sponsors also welcome MITRE's systems engineering expertise. "The courts often work independently of one another, so it's not always easy for them to merge their differing viewpoints into a common understanding of what's needed, agree on what's best, or how to get the most from their people, policies, processes, and technologies."

Despite the courts' tradition of independence, the principles that guide our systems engineering and our experience in multi-stakeholder environments help them find common ground—at least when it comes to technology. "Despite a new domain with a very different sponsor, MITRE is adapting our systems engineering and technology expertise and is working with this sponsor to apply it to their most important and challenging problems. That, to me, is the hallmark of FFRDC work anywhere in government."

—by Kay M. Upham

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